Hack Your Program

Hack Your Program: Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science

*Disclaimer: These are my personal opinions and are not representative of the student body. I started in Fall 2009 as a full-time student and graduated this past semester. I hope the below, and the previous posts in the series, will provide a means of discussion and collaboration.  I did not apply to any other LIS programs.  I was living in London and wanted to move back to Boston where I lived during and after my undergraduate program.  So my decision to come to Simmons was based on location, its prestige in the profession, and the numerous people I spoke to who all had nothing but fantastic things to say about the program.  While I have had some personal ups and downs throughout the past two years, with the program, and with my own path, I have not regretted my decision in the slightest.

Location of GSLIS program - most classes, tech lab, lounge, faculty offices

 

I just finished my program at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at Simmons College.  I attended all of my classes at the Boston Campus but they also have a GSLIS West campus that is located in Western Massachusetts at Mt Holyoke College.  Students are able to take classes at both campuses and the core courses are offered at both.  I will speak mostly to my experience with the Boston campus, though.  At the Boston campus, we are lucky to call the Palace Road Building our home, with a lounge, tech lab, and classrooms dedicated to the GSLIS student population.

Boston, itself, is a fantastic place to be in a college program as it is like one big college town with over 50 institutions of higher education in metropolitan Boston.  As a student at Simmons you are also a part of the Colleges of the Fenway consortium and have access to many of the services at the other participating institutions.  Simmons also offers graduate housing.

Concentrations and/or specializations:

There are three main tracks that people take, archives, school media specialists, or general. The Archives students and School Media Specialists end up with a concentration in those spaces.  There are several degree options through GSLIS.  The majority of students work towards the Master of Science in Library and Information Science.  Other degrees include dual degrees in Archives/History, LIS/Children’s Literature, and a BS/MS program.  There are also two PhD programs including PhD/LIS and PhD/MLIP.  Finally, there are two certificate programs in Archives Management and the School Library Teacher certificate.  GSLIS also offers several continuing education programs that are available to alumni and others in the profession.  Classes are mostly taught on-campus, although, the program is extending the online program in addition to being a part of the WISE consortium and offering those courses to students.

Financial aid:

A single credit at GSLIS currently runs about $1,100 with courses being 3 credits each.  Beyond the regular merit and need-based financial assistance, the program also has several graduate fellowship positions, which are available on a rolling basis.  Each fellowship operates slightly differently and I am not super familiar with them.   I also suggest looking at professional associations to look for scholarships.  I was lucky enough to receive two of these throughout my program, and while it didn’t fully fund my costs, it definitely helped a bit!

Coursework:

At GSLIS, we have 15 credit hour core courses that we must take. The degree is a 36 credit-hour program, which takes about 2 years to complete if you go to school full-time.

Core Classes:

  • Evaluation of Information Services
  • Principles of Management
  • Reference/Information Services
  • Information Organization
  • Technology for Information Professionals

You can take these courses whenever you would like throughout your program but many of the electives require that you’ve already taken certain ones.  Like other programs, the electives can be tailored to your own interests.  If you are in the Archives or School Media Specialist track, you will have more core classes and fewer electives to choose from.  The program has also initiated a Technology Orientation Requirement or TOR that each new student must complete before the end of the first semester.  It’s a self-paced online tutorial designed to orient the student with technology at Simmons and with tools at the library.   There was recently an article in The Boston Globe, about the technology focus at Simmons.

I took the more “general” track during my time at Simmons so I tried to focus on electives that would give me a broad background to the library field, especially as I was slightly unclear on what kind of library work I wanted to do when I was done with the program.  While I took the core technology class along with a web development course, I still wish I had been able to take more technology classes, especially something like digital libraries, but at the end of the day, it’s just not possible to take every class and I definitely went in a few directions before really deciding what kind of work would interest me most.  I appreciated the flexibility of the Simmons program for allowing me to do that type of exploration and discovery.  I took 4 out of 5 of my core courses in my first two semesters, though, so that I was able to really take what I wanted during the rest of my program.  That made my first year pretty tough in terms of course work but I was thankful for the flexibility it gave me in deciding the rest of my course selection.

For the MLIS degree, there is no final project or thesis requirement.  I would say, as Annie said,  for her program, that with no final projects, “students feel either relieved or directionless.”  However, as part of the course, Evaluation of Information Services, many professors are encouraging students to continue the research study they create in that class as a further independent study for credit which can then be seen as a type of final project and a way to bring together much of what has been learned throughout the program.  I think having some sort of portfolio requirement could be a nice addition to the program that would then allow students for self-reflection and something more tangible to come away with beyond the degree.

Internship availability:

If I had had to talk about internship availability at GSLIS when I started my program I would have been much more critical.  When I began the degree in the Fall of 2009, the only integral internships in the program were if you were in the archives or school media specialist track.  The rest of us were kind of on our own to find opportunities; assisted by a few web-based services that the program provides.  Which is fine, I mean, we are graduate students, we should be able to source opportunities and have a bit of a “go-getter” mentality but I had wished that the general track students had some of the internships opportunities that archives and school media specialists did. There internships are integrated into a few required courses.  However, starting in Fall 2010, GSLIS implemented a kind of practice run with internships for credit for the rest of the student body.  I can’t speak directly to the program as I did not take part but I know it has continued through 2011 and I have heard positive anecdotes regarding it.  It makes me feel like the program saw the gap and really has tried to do something about which I really appreciate.

Student Involvement:

There are several active students groups within GSLIS, including student chapters of American Library Association, American Society for Information Science and Technology, Massachusetts School Library Association, Progressive Librarians Guild, Simmons International Relations, Society of American Archivists, Special Libraries Association, and Art Librarian Group.  The umbrella group for all student groups is the Library and Information Science Student Association.

The majority of them have regular events, brown bag lunches, and ways to connect to the parent professional organization.  Every semester there are brown-bag lunches with professors, guest speakers and special events, connecting students to alumni and faculty.  GSLIS also provides professional development reimbursement so students often taken advantage of going to conferences of these organizations at student rates and still are able to get the majority of the expenses reimbursed.

Strengths:

  • Strong faculty who are considered some of the top in the field and who are the authors behind many of the books that are used in LIS programs across the country.  The majority of them have a very strong presence in the field and profession.  I also found that most of the faculty was more than happy to help me during my time in the program and pretty much everyone had a very “open door” type of policy.  I still get emails from some professors because they have seen a posting that I would be perfect for or an opportunity that they think would suit my interests.  I really value that.
  • In the New England area, and beyond, alumni are still very involved at Simmons and in the profession and provide current students with a wealth of networking opportunities and ways of getting involved in the profession, both as a student and as alumni.  There have been a few ALA presidents and several Movers and Shakers who are alum of GSLIS.  And the current National Archivist is a GSLIS grad!
  • The name of Simmons really does seem to go a far way.  I think the depth of this strength depends on what you are looking for out of a program.  But when I was at ALA Annual last year, every time someone saw “Simmons” on my name tag I got a variation of “ohhh what a great program” no matter where in the country the person was located.
  • You have up to 6 years to finish the program and you can really mix and match how you want to spend your time at Simmons.  I took a full load my first three semesters but then was able to pair it back after I started working full-time again.  I found that most faculty were pretty understanding of the fact that most students had more going on in their life than graduate school.
  • The Library and dedicated Technology Lab are incredible resources, along with the people who work in both.  The program is also home to a Usability Lab.  I found myself, in both spots, on numerous occasions, asking questions and seeking help from people who were beyond helpful and resourceful.  The library also serves as a training ground for many prospective academic librarians!
  • The Archives program is ranked as one of the top in the country.  Again, I can’t really speak to this program but it definitely has received many accolades.

Areas for Improvement:

  • More focus on the general track students.  While the archives and school media specialists programs seem to have a great deal of focus and direction, I often felt a little forgotten about as a general track student.  I think, though, that the administration is aware of this and is trying to correct the issue.  Beyond the internship program, I know that several faculty are working on creating guides for general track students in terms of what types of classes they should think about taking depending on the library path they want to take.
  • I know they continue to add more technology courses but I would still like to see more geared towards the information professional.
  • The core classes continue to evolve and develop and I understand that each professor is going to have a different teaching method; however I do wish there had been a bit more uniformity amongst the core classes so that everyone, no matter the teacher, was essentially being taught the same skills.  I wasn’t sure this was necessarily the case at times.
  • I continue to struggle with the balance between adjunct and full-time professors teaching courses.  I don’t think this is just an issue at Simmons.  I believe that both can be invaluable teachers.  However, at times, I was concerned that some of the full-time professors did not have a great deal of recent experience in a library or information environment.

Looking forward:

As an alumnus, I look forward to seeing some of the changes that GSLIS implements over the next few years.  I know they are hoping to integrate more online course options into the program to allow even greater flexibility to the degree.  The program also just recently went through and passed the accreditation process so I’m anxious to see if there are any other changes that come from that.

Overall, I think this program still leans towards theory and some of the more specialized tracks.  However, I think that it provides students with the flexibility and resources to really make the most of the experience; whether through course work, internships, student group involvement, or student-professor collaboration.  I hope that its commitment to technology continues to grow and strengthen because I think that is vital to the growth of an LIS program these days.  I also hope it continues to devote itself to its involvement in the profession and to making sure that students leave the program prepared to enter the profession.

If anyone has any questions I’m happy to answer them.  I would also encourage other students from GSLIS, especially those that did the specialized tracks, to add any comments, feedback, etc.  I know I left things out and that each student will have a different experience of the program.

23 thoughts on “Hack Your Program: Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science

  1. Great post, Nicole. I agree pretty much across the board. I can attest to the strength of the archives track, being a concentrator, and I think a large part of that was due to the wonderful adjunct faculty. Because some adjuncts teach only one class, I know not everyone found their classes valuable. In most cases, I was lucky to have instructors who were current in practice and passionate about their work.

    I also wanted to add that there is a tentative new track in , with an intro class, a class in digital stewardship, and a practicum. It’s in its early stages, but I think it’s promising. There aren’t many crossover educational opportunities for people interested in both librarianship and museum work, so I hope it takes off. The intro class is being co-taught by a GSLIS professor and an undergrad art history professor this autumn.

    Finally, I just wanted to mention that there are study abroad possibilities as well. They are all hosted by other schools, but I know Simmons students who have done several different trips the last two years, as well as taking part in one myself. As a caution, Simmons’ financial aid policies don’t make it easy, but it’s worth it if you’re willing to work through the administrative red tape and you want to see different facets of global librarianship. The internship opportunities in Boston, either through the program or self-directed, are fantastic, but the additional perspective is so valuable.

    Thanks for putting the word out on GSLIS! There have been ups and downs, but the decision to go to Simmons was easy and paid off big-time!

    Like

  2. I’m a 2010 Simmons GSLIS grad. I think your assessment of the program is accurate, Nicole.

    I have a few points to add based on my experience. I’ll going to be candid–while I got a lot out of Simmons and have my degree to thank for my current job, my experience at GSLIS was mixed, and I’d do a lot of things differently if I could back in time. I’d also challenge Simmons to do a lot of things differently.

    Advising is a real mixed bag at Simmons and is a definite area in need of improvement. It depends on your advisor, but advising can be wonderful, or it can be nonexistent. I sought out advice from professors I knew and respected. My official advisor met with me once and wasn’t very helpful, especially once I decided not to do the archives concentration.

    Simmons could pay more attention to part-time students and those taking evening classes. Many activities and student group meetings take place during the day, and it’s difficult to get administrivia taken care of if you’re only on campus in the evening.

    There’s a lot of red tape at Simmons, and the different offices don’t seem to talk to each other. Expect to do a lot of footwork if you encounter a problem of any kind. I know this is no different from many other schools, but I have worked in several other colleges and universities and was surprised at the depth of dysfunction at Simmons.

    Simmons could stand to tighten up its admission standards a bit. I think this is an area where they suffer from not having credible local competition. They’re the only game in town, and they know it. Students fresh out of undergrad would fare better with a few years of work under their belts. In many classes, it’s hard for the professor to tailor the work and the teaching to different academic levels and interests. It’s easy to see some self-sorting going on as certain people gravitate to the harder or more academically challenging courses and others skate through doing the bare minimum. The best professors are the ones who expect a lot from their students and don’t put up with the “I’m just here for the piece of paper” mentality that’s a bit too common. I know I also struggled with the change from a liberal arts undergraduate experience to a professional graduate school. I think that’s a common problem in the program, based on my conversations with friends.

    I would welcome the addition of academic tracks within the program to make it more focused. I did some floundering at the beginning, and I regret that now. I wish I’d had better advising and a better sense of what I needed to take to end up where I wanted to be. I think that defined tracks would have helped me to see the forest through the trees–something that’s difficult when you’re just starting out in a self-directed program. I did appreciate the flexibility, though, and I hope they can preserve some elements of that while giving students a bit more direction.

    If you’re considering Simmons against a program at a public institution, consider the cost. As we say in New England, it’s wicked expensive, and the cost of living in Boston is high.

    Lastly, I think it’s incumbent upon all graduate schools in the LIS field to be more honest in their recruiting. This is not the high-growth hipster dream profession you’ve read about in the New York Times Styles section. Jobs are scarce, pay is low, many professional librarian jobs are being turned into paraprofessional positions, and people in libraries aren’t retiring at the rate that was predicted 10 years ago. “Loving books” isn’t enough. Being a librarian isn’t about books, necessarily. You have to want to serve the public, and you have to be able to work in an atmosphere of constant change. It can be a tremendously rewarding career for the right person, but don’t jump in on a whim.

    Like

    • Katy- thank you so much taking the time to write out these comments. You totally hit so many of the points I didn’t have a chance to talk about. I definitely agree about advising. I understand it’s a graduate program but there were times when I felt like a little more direction would have been nice. And like I mentioned via our Twitter chat, I know we here at HLS have been talking about the role of LIS institutions and ALA in what has become a very challenging job market for librarians and info professionals.

      Like

  3. I am interested in the point you brought up about the worth of a name. UCLA has that same kind of cache going on– Berkeley and UCLA are the two big names in public schools here in California, and if you mention that you go to one of them, it can’t be denied that people react to that, in and out of IS. I’ve been told a few times that being a UCLA IS grad carries a lot of weight on applications– and I wonder how much of that is deserved. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say, really, except that I’ve always been sort of back-and-forth about what a name means to a degree, especially as I think that a lot of UCLA’s weight, at least locally, comes from the fact that after a certain generation, a huge chunk of CA info professionals are UCLA grads… which has been a point of connection in two of my interviews. This is a sort of higher ed issue in general… does anybody else have any thoughts on this, much more articulate than my own, and about other programs?

    Like

      • I know it’s probably biased, but I was told the same thing about having IU on paper. This was coming from alumni, so of course they are biased, but we have graduates that are employed all over the country. Our program is ranked pretty high too, but I wonder what makes the school good? Is it the number of graduates who get jobs afterwards? Is it the support system that the school offers the students?

        I suspect that part of any program having recognition is because of a strong alumni support group who have certain expectations of graduates from their school.

        Like

        • I hear what is being said, and I have to add an aside, a completely random interjection. How many people know of, or about, or have heard of Ivy League Schools. We all have, and I do not think I can name them all, but they are prestigious, and very well known, and you mention them in casual conversation and people think you are pretentious. But how many people actually know what makes an Ivy League school Ivy League worthy? Not many, and until I joined the SLIS program, I wouldn’t have thought to look it up. And the answer completely flabbergasted me. Its based off of sports scores, football rankings I think. These schools that have a reputation for being some of the hardest academic institutions only became so famous because of athletics. Does anyone else see the irony in this? I guess what I am trying to say is that the name of the school shouldn’t be as important as the quality of librarians it turns out.

          Like

    • I agree Britt- I’m really not sure how much it matters. I mean I guess I want someone who is looking at my resume to recognize the name at least! I know, though, that these things change so much over time. My undergrad institution was a third tier school when I attended but is now something like 60 in the nation.

      Like

      • It is a really interesting thing. I can’t deny that I like that people recognize my school, but like Annie pointed out, I think it might be somewhat self-perpetuating… but, if the self-perpetuating habit is one of expecting excellence, at UCLA and at other IS programs, it’s a habit I’m willing to buy into!

        Like

  4. Just adding my two cents as a very recent graduate of the archives program.

    Overall, I had a good experience at Simmons. Having two internships built into the archives curriculum has been immensely helpful (one of mine turned into a job!). The majority of the professors are well-admired in the field and have been great at imparting their knowledge to students. Also, Boston is the place to be for an archivist, with history everywhere you turn.

    I hate to focus on the negatives but that’s what people really need to know. The archives world, like the library one, is in a constant state of flux. I know it is difficult to continually update and create new classes, but I do wish there were a faster turn around, especially in the realm of all things digital we are going to have to deal with. There is a focus on theory for a lot of subjects, with not much practice outside of internships.

    There was certainly more good than bad but not all peachy keen!

    Like

  5. Both as an alum and as a staff member, I very much appreciate the detailed, thought-out comments about Simmons GSLIS. It’s always great to hear the positives, of course, but hearing the negatives is an integral part of a great-but-still-always-improving program. Input from students and graduates has a huge impact on the experience for everyone — as noted above regarding the addition of a general internship for those not in archives or school libraries (and yes, this is a permanent addition).

    Also, the development of “tracks” (i.e., not required sets of courses but instead a suggested series of classes for people interested in a certain topic) is as a direct result of students’ desire for more specific advice. (And in case you haven’t seen it, last year we piloted an advising website that started to get at some of these issues. See the “Areas of Exploration” section on http://gslis.simmons.edu/advising/. A summer project is to move that kind of information onto the overall GSLIS website.)

    And with the knowledge that Simmons (and, yes, GSLIS) can sometimes be a difficult place to navigate, we created a Student Services Center that we hope can assist students in working through whatever issues they might come across. Although it’s impossible to make everyone’s experience perfect, we do our best to work with students so that they can have a positive experience in the program.

    That said, I’d like to again acknowledge that there are things we can do better. We welcome the sharing of information like this and look forward to hearing more about areas where we might be able to better assist students.

    Like

    • Thank you so much for your comments Jennifer and for the link to the Areas of Exploration. It really does feel like everyone at GSLIS does take feedback from students very seriously and I’ve really appreciated that during my time.

      Like

  6. As someone who took the General Internship this summer, I thought I’d add my $0.02.

    Like other generalists, I’ve found myself a bit overwhelmed by the plethora of electives available, and the different paths you can take while at Simmons. (I want to take them all!) One of the things that drew me to Boston from the Midwest was the library culture here, and what I imagined to be an abundance of opportunities available in the many libraries in the city. I found a part-time job pretty quickly when I moved, in a small academic library. However, I discovered that I’m lucky in that respect. I’ve talked to many students who have never worked in a library and have had a tough time finding work experience on their own in Boston. Yet, practical experience is something all GSLIS students need most.

    While I enjoy my PT job, I really love public libraries, and was desperate to get some experience in one. Those jobs are even more rare. I don’t think I’ve seen BPL post a paraprofessional position since I moved, and when I wandered into the main branch last August and asked about applications and where I should look for postings, the woman at the info desk was openly hostile and claimed she couldn’t answer my question and that they weren’t hiring anyway. So, when I heard about this general internship business, I was all over it. It’s sort of advertised as something you should take toward the end of your studies at Simmons, but I enrolled with the bare minimum of credits required to participate in the Internship (18, 15 which need to be the core classes). My thought was that if public librarianship was not my cup of tea, I’d have two semesters left to shift my focus. You don’t have to leave this for your last semester!! I think I was the only person in the class who planned it that way, though.

    Anyway, I’m getting rambly, so I’ll get to the point here. I thought the Internship was awesome. GSLIS goes out and recruits host sites to participate. Then they assemble a list of internships to choose from, and you submit your top three choices, and hope to get assigned to one of them. They take into consideration your transportation needs, which was a concern for me with no car. I’ll be really honest here and say that there were only a few sites that met my interests, and I would have dropped the class if I didn’t get a good match. After all it’s not required, it is expensive, and there are loads of electives I could take instead. I got assigned to my first choice however, and was thrilled. The class is designed so that you have 3 in-class meetings (2 for summer session), a goal-setting assignment, and online discussion about related topics. Those elements tied in nicely with the 120 hours I spent at my site over the summer. (I believe it’s 150 hours for a full semester.) I feel there’s a advantage in having a GSLIS sponsored internship rather than finding one on your own, because of the connection to the class. It was equally valuable to see what my classmates were doing at their sites, and what their unique challenges and goals were.

    It was a positive experience, and I’m sure the variety of internship sites will increase as the project generates interest and enrollment. It will help for students who’ve taken it to encourage their host sites to continue the partnership with Simmons. I know you can find internship locations on your own, and request credit for them. I’m not sure how that works though, and whether or not you can be paid and still get the three credits towards your MLIS. I would highly recommend this as an option though, and Mary Wilkins Jordan is the faculty/classroom contact and is very enthusiastic and invested in the program. Don’t hesitate to look her up if you’re considering this class. If you have limited practical experience, I feel like this should be a requirement.

    Like

    • Jenny thank you so much for the feedback on the internship program…I’m so glad to hear it was such a positive experience. Disappointed I didn’t have the chance to take part but happy to know that future students will!

      Like

  7. Pingback: Best of the Summer Semester « Hack Library School

  8. Pingback: Library School Confidential (Part 1) « Figs and Things

  9. Hi all,
    I don’t know very much about the Library Science field, and I was wondering if anyone out there can help me. I am considering applying to Simmons and am particularly interested in the dual degree of MS in Library Science & MA in children’s literature–but I’m not sure if the dual program will help my career in any way. Does anyone know what people do who get this dual degree? Would a dual degree in history/library science, or even just a focus on archiving, be a better bet for my future? Thanks for your help!

    Like

    • Hi Arielle,

      If you’re interested in the dual Children’s Lit program, I think the College of Arts and Sciences Admission Office is a great place to start. You can email them at gsa@simmons.edu with any questions.

      If you have questions about the Dual Archives/Hist or library science degrees, just contact the GSLIS Admission Office at gslisadm@simmons.edu.

      Both of these offices have approachable staff members and they’re willing to help students figure out what path is best for their interests.

      The GSLIS Admission blog has some posts from students in both dual degree programs: http://simmons.edu/gslis/admission/experience/dual-degree-programs/.

      These posts talk about Children’s Lit and Archives/History – there are even some thoughts from students who decided to pursue only an archives concentration instead of the dual degree.

      I hope this helps – good luck with everything!

      Like

  10. I’ve found this page through a google search, and hopefully I’m not so late that no one is active here anymore. I’m applying to Simmons this week for their MLIS. I work full time and would like to complete the degree as quickly and efficiently as possible. A. I don’t have the time for a degree, and B. I don’t have the money. I’m already working as a cataloger in a library, but I need the degree if I ever want a higher position. I am not willing to go 50k in debt for a job which will not pay that off, so I’m wondering if anyone might be willing to share how they are paying or have paid for a college like SImmons? It’s the only option that’s within an hour of me, though I haven’t much looked into the online programs yet. I was hoping for at least some face-to-face, but the cost of Simmons is proving to me that online may be my only option.

    I created an email address if anyone would be willing to talk to me about this particular heartache: libraryschool.123@gmail.com.
    Thanks!

    Like

  11. Hello my name is Jordan, and I’m a senior in high school that will be attending Georgia State University in the fall. I want to be an archivist, and I would love to get my graduate degree from Simmons. I was wondering if anyone could give me a range for GPA and GRE scores that I should get in order to be accepted into the graduate. Also anything such as internship at an archives (which I already have started), joining clubs, etc. Thank you.

    Like

  12. Hi Jordan,

    In college, I would just focus on participating in things that are of interest to you – if that happens to be an internship at an archive or a job in the library, go for it. However, those items aren’t absolutely necessary for an application. People apply to Simmons with all kinds of backgrounds because a library science degree can translate to all kinds of fields – music, medicine, law, history, English, psychology, etc. Also, if your GPA stays above a 3.0, you won’t have to take the GRE for Simmons. I hope that helps – good luck!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s